How do we convert benzene into methane

Waste natural gas becomes a chemical raw material

Methane can be converted into benzene and hydrogen in a single chemical reaction - at least if Sheima Khatib, assistant professor and chemical engineer at Texas Tech University has its way.

This would make the classic flaring of climate-damaging gases during the production of oil a thing of the past.

Transformation thanks to zeolite

Benzene is liquid and therefore easy to transport. It is required in the chemical industry as a starting material for innumerable syntheses. Around 40 million tons of it are produced annually, mostly from crude oil. Kathib manages the feat with a catalyst based on zeolite. This is an extremely porous ceramic material coated with molybdenum oxide.

“We need it to activate the methane,” says Kathib. The metal oxide activates the methane. The zeolite is the actual catalyst. It consists of silicon, aluminum and oxygen atoms that have formed into a crystal. This creates pores and tiny passages that have different sizes and orientations. The molybdenum oxide penetrates into the pores, which are similar in diameter to a benzene molecule.

Hydrogen as a by-product

Large amounts of hydrogen are produced as a by-product, which can be used to generate electricity in fuel cells. Large quantities are also required for the chemical industry. However, the problem of transport remains. The light gas would have to be filled into steel cylinders under high pressure or consumed on site. Whether the process will catch on is still open, as is a similar development at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The aim of the researchers there is to convert methane into methanol, which can be used as fuel in traffic (use instead of flaring: MIT turns gas into methanol).

Methane, which is a by-product of oil production, is flared because it would be uneconomical to use. It would have to be pumped into pressure tanks in compressed form. Or special pipelines would have to be built. The supposedly superfluous natural gas, which is produced in an amount of 150 billion cubic meters per year, could also be released directly into the environment. However, since it affects climate change 25 times more than the same amount of carbon dioxide, it is flared. This creates 400 million tons of carbon dioxide.


The report was made by
the editorial team ""
(Wolfgang Kempkens) written in 2018
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